The American vessels that the government bought and turned into warships may not have impressed a public awed by modern Chinese ships now guarding the contested Scarborough Shoal in the West Philippine Sea.
But Vice Admiral Alexander Pama, Navy flag officer in command, on Saturday said the vessels’ size and age should not really matter. He said the Navy is upgrading its technology, not in response to the standoff at Scarborough, but as part of a scheduled upgrade that was started several years ago.
Yet improving the Navy’s technology also requires enough time for its personnel to familiarize themselves with modern equipment, he said, after addressing the cadets comprising the Philippine Military Academy’s “Gabay-Laya” Class of 2016.
“Even if I had all the money in the world, I myself will not be getting all the top-of-the-line equipment [immediately] … the reason being there has to be some form of transition. You are used to riding a bicycle or a tricycle and suddenly you buy a Mercedes Benz,” Pama told the Inquirer.
In his speech, Pama said: “The constant challenge we face, as with the rest of the other branches of service, is the urgent need for our capacity-enhancement and capability-building in the face of regional and transnational threats.”
Amid scarcity of resources, he said the government had found ways of securing the cutters BRP Del Pilar PF-15 and BRP Alcaraz PF-16, which would be commissioned in December.
He said the government is also buying frigates and has improved the country’s coast watch systems.
“There has to be a sort of transition for our people to acquire the necessary knowledge and skills and that’s even more important than acquiring anything else,” he said.
When asked, Pama said public impressions were correct about the Navy’s outdated equipment.
He said the shoal standoff had drawn policymakers to the demands of beefing up the country’s fleet.
“Admittedly, the military did not receive proper attention for a while, which is understandable because the government has other priorities,” he said.
The new warships were former US Coast Guard vessels, which were outfitted and sold to the Philippines without their weapon systems.
Pama said these vessels “serve our purpose, the purpose being the size of the ship [enables the Navy] to bring it to patrol areas when before, navigating these seas had been difficult for the older vessels.”
“Just because [these vessels are] X number of years, it does not mean they are useless. They are not,” he said.
“The size of the ships conforms with our operational demands. It’s not that new but then again, it’s an easier step to transition into the necessary skills [for operating modern vessels],” he said